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 Texas : Architecture : Preservation / Rooms with a Past :
Texas Preservation in Action

Little Tee Pee(s) on the Prairie
Wharton, Texas

Restoration news from one of Texas' most Silent Counties

by Johnny Stucco

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Tee Pee Motel old neon



The Tee Pee's beacon to weary travelers awaits restoration.

Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, May 10, 2005
The Tee Pee Motel of Wharton is currently being restored and will soon be welcoming guests. The once-famous landmark has been sitting deserted since the 1980s. Work began in January 2005 by Statewide Solutions of East Bernard, Texas and at the rate they're progressing, it might be finished by the time you read this.

This is the biggest news in Wharton County in years. It's bigger than the night they burned the wooden sidewalks on the square and certainly bigger than the night they cut down the Sycamore trees on the courthouse lawn. It might even be considered a tie with the time Sheriff Buckshot Lane burned the highway bridge. It's nice to get some constructive news from Wharton County.
1950s aerial view of Tee Pee Complex , Wharton, Texas
Aerial View of the Tee Pee Complex c. 1950s

Photo Courtesy Blue Dolphin Investments LP
Designed in 1942 by George and Toppie Belcher, the eleven stucco and wood rooms were part of that golden era of roadside novelties when people would drive miles out of their way to buy gas from an oil-derrick service station, eat a hamburger served from the belly of a giant fiberglass cow or go without lunches to see Ralph the Swimming Pig at Aquarena Springs.

Actual construction of the Tee Pee was delayed until after WWII. The Belcher's began in 1947, when lumber and critical building materials were still being rationed. Lacy Helms, owner of a Wharton lumber yard, had to jump through Federal hoops and unravel miles of government red tape to just get enough lumber to build the framework. But after completion - it made up for lost time. If a family was headed toward Mexico in the 1950s - their map was usually circled at Wharton - and "Tee Pee Motel" penciled-in on the map's margin.
Tee Pee Motel before restoration
The motel before restoration

Photo Courtesy Blue Dolphin Investments

During a 1997 report on the motel, while it was standing vacant, Houston television reporter Nancy Holland said "It [the motel] says something about who we were at a certain time. [The tee pees] " have an innocence about them, even though that might have changed toward the last years of their use. Actually, we were probably never as innocent as we were naive.


The restoration of the 59-year old structures has been promised more times than there are tee pees; but this time they mean business. "They" being Blue Dolphin Investments LP, the new owners. In addition to each unit having a bedroom and bath, other amenities include refrigerators, microwaves and coffeemakers - things that were either luxuries or science fiction when your grandparents stayed at the Tee Pee. The complex will also include an RV park with full hookups.

Included in the new decor will be portrayals of Native American culture - specifically "tribes that are a part of Texas' history." Susie Dusek, spokesperson for the group says in their press release: "With the help of ten Native American tribes, each of the Tee Pees will be characteristic of [a] tribe and will allow each unit to take on its own personality."

Restored Tee Pees in Wharton, Texas
Restored Tee Pees

Photo Courtesy Blue Dolphin Investments
There was once a time when tee pee motels and tourist courts could be found all along America's roadsides. But with the reopening of the Tee Pee, it will be the only one in Texas and only one of four in operation in the U. S. (The other states being Arizona, California and Kentucky.)

Even without an announcement of a completion date, the motel already has bookings for both the Tee Pees and the RV Park.
Tee Pees in Texas
The wind-swept tree is a permanent result of the near-constant coastal breezes.

Photo Courtesy Ken Rudine, May 10, 2005
Tee Pee Motels in Wharton, Texas
Nearly finished units.

Photo Courtesy Ken Rudine, May 10, 2005
Tee Pee Motel new old neon
New Old Neon

Photo courtesy Susie Dusek, September 2005
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John Troesser
First published June 15, 2005
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